Photos by Will Marks
Romantic getaways. Rest and relaxation retreats. Vacations. Family, loved ones, experiences, adventures. How do you refill your cup each year? Many of us enjoy going away, whether it’s merely for the weekend or for a refreshing, weeklong excursion. And, as convenient as hotel stays have been for many of us, sometimes they feel lifeless. Or maybe we want a more fulfilling experience— something that feels more like home. Your typical hotel room can feel a little stagnant, and for those of us who crave an environment with a little more character, hotels can run our wallets dry with little to no authenticity in return.
The existence of AirBNB, however, gives us more bang for our buck. Why basically pay more than $100 a night to “rent” a boring hotel room holding no purpose other than a place to rest our heads? What if you had the choice to stay somewhere with a little more personality and functional features to enjoy?
Living the Host Life
FLL recently Googled AirBNB stays in downtown Lancaster and found a very unique spot on the 300 block of North Queen Street. The charming apartment, available for a minimum of two nights, is owned by Dennis Snader and Alicia Byler. Alicia greets us at the top of the steps and welcomes us into the second floor apartment which happens to neighbor their own apartment.
“We have been in the building for ten years,” Alicia explains. “It’s been great… it’s been a commitment and lots of work, and it was a risk, but we have absolutely loved it.” After taking a short tour of the two bedroom, one bathroom place, we settle into the brightly decorated patio which she and her guests have the ability to share. The patio is like a little surprise in the city, rich with greenery and neatly organized antiques.
As guests book the apartment through AirBNB, Alicia and Dennis have the ability to see who is coming and approve each guest based on their reviews from other hosts. If their schedules allow it, they greet the guests and show them around the apartment, leaving an open line of communication in case anything is needed. If they aren’t able to meet the guests, they leave a key in the lockbox so guests can show themselves in.
“AirBNB is great because you can click on each scheduled booking and communicate directly with your guest through the website,” Alicia tells us.
When meeting guests, Alicia and Dennis can pretty much tell immediately if the guest is more outgoing or introverted. Some of the guests just want to be given their key and left to explore the apartment on their own, discovering all the little treasures inside. But some guests, as Alicia tells us, really enjoy getting to know the hosts. Dennis and Alicia have been invited out to the patio to join their guests for wine and cheese and have been asked in depth about recommendations around town. “We do leave a little book on the desk with a list of our favorite cafés, restaurants, and shopping ventures for those who want more privacy,” Alicia says.
Ninety percent of the apartment is made up of vintage and antiques. Of course, the bedding, linens, towels, and provided food are brand new, but the apartment is decorated with items from past eras including the furniture, wall hangings, and even vintage board games. Alicia and Dennis are true vintage lovers, but the art of creating an authentic experience for their guests has been gained through personal ventures. They have both stayed in numerous AirBNB homes over the last several years and have learned a lot from their hosts on how to be superb hosts themselves. Every single thing is in its right place throughout the Queen Street apartment, and they strive to make their guests feel cared for.
“One of our favorite things,” Alicia says about their guests, “is that besides really enjoying the apartment, people are always astounded by how fabulous Lancaster is and they want to come back to explore the city even more. Most, if not all, of our guests are very impressed by our city.”
It’s All in the Details
One thing to consider before becoming a host through AirBNB is understanding your state’s tax regulations regarding use and occupancy. The state of Pennsylvania recently sent out letters to AirBNB hosts requiring them to pay taxes on their rentals. “Our building is already a commercial and rental building, so as long as we stay up to code and are regularly inspected, we are fine,” Alicia explains. “The only thing we should have been doing differently from the start was charging sales use and occupancy tax.” Including this in the cost of the rental helps to pay the necessary taxes in the end.
The most important thing you can do for your host, though, is give them an honest and accurate review.
In the end, AirBNB is awesome. It builds community and offers an array of options for guests to feel more comfortable when traveling away from home—so they can belong anywhere.